Minimal budget battling earns high marks for Phil Mendelson

By |
Local,DC,Eric P. Newcomer,Phil Mendelson,D.C. Council,Jim Graham,Vincent Gray,David Grosso

The D.C. Council's swift and unanimous approval of Chairman Phil Mendelson's first budget cemented the chairman's reputation as a low-drama, detail-oriented leader.

Adding millions to housing, homeless causes and the arts, among other changes, Mendelson and his staff shifted some spending from Mayor Vincent Gray's $10 billion budget proposal, but the mayor's spending priorities remained largely intact.

"People often look at a budget in terms of what the executive did and what the legislature is doing different, like it's some sort of test of wills. That's not my view," Mendelson said. "The Council's made some changes -- I don't think they're insignificant, but overwhelmingly the structure of the budget is unchanged."

Gray's "One City Fund" became the "Innovation Fund," stripping away an overtly political name but leaving behind the $15 million designated for the general-purpose grant-making entity.

The public debate over the chairman's proposed budget on Wednesday was tame compared to previous years, which have occasionally featured coalitions meant to amend the chairman's budget and saw budgets released late into the night ahead of a vote the next day.

This year was not without conflict, but those scuffles typically arose between Mendelson and individual committee chairs who were frustrated that he had moved money without sufficient consultation -- though there's still time for those fights to arise before the Council's final vote.

For example, Human Services Committee Chairman Jim Graham opposed Mendelson's decision to dedicate welfare money to help several groups of welfare recipients, including caretakers of disabled children, while taking away funding that would have allowed women with babies under 1 year old to remain on welfare longer.

During the council session, Ward 1 Councilman Graham accused Mendelson of shoving "the children out of the lifeboat" -- but his rhetoric has since cooled.

Graham said the issue was not over since the council still had to vote on the budget support act again, but he spoke favorably of Mendelson's role as chairman.

"He pays great attention to detail. He develops his own views. He is determined very often in those views," Graham said. "I see him behaving quite predictably -- and a lot of people consider a great strength that he devotes the time to really understanding issues and then coming to his own conclusions. I don't fault him in any way. I disagree with him, but I don't fault him."

At-large Councilman David Grosso, who is one of the council's newest members, said he thought Mendelson's first budget had gone over successfully.

"I thought he did a fairly good job," Grosso said, "and I was impressed."

enewcomer@washingtonexaminer.com

View article comments Leave a comment